Friday’s San Diego Comic Con TFA panel was carefully constructed to generate positive, even ecstatic buzz. All of those panels are meant to do that, whether it’s a rare appearance from a huge movie star, the debut of a two-fisted trailer, an ensemble cast appearing together, or goofy surprise stunts like the new Spiderman showing up to ask a question in costume.
If you went by the happy, even joyous tweets from those who attended the panel and the free show afterwards (complete with fireworks) or the geek media reports, it was the best thing since sliced bread. I felt a bit stung that I’d missed out, especially on the concert afterwards. It was in an outdoor area where I could’ve seen and heard the event, even if I hadn’t attended the panel. As I put it on Twitter, it felt like a friend threw a party but didn’t invite me.
But it’s Monday and instead of every Star Wars fan chattering excitedly about what we’re getting in five months, a lot of prequel/saga fans in particular are steamed over the tone of the panel and the behind-the-scenes video shown to the mostly-unwashed masses in Hall H. There were things in that video we’d not seen before, like a MUCH better shot of TFA Leia and various creatures. Larry Kasdan at least had the decency to bring up George Lucas a couple of times and acknowledge his genius. The film’s villains were introduced for the first time. Having Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford together again in one place was a reunion most of us thought would never happen. The rest of it though was relentless emphasis on “practical effects,” “real sets,” “real deserts,” and “tangible” stuff. Plus the video confirmed the presence of prequel basher/bully Simon Pegg. We’ve heard it before at Celebration in April and in various interviews but there was something about this particular panel that broke the eopie’s back and many people noticed the shade being cast on the prequels. Look at some of these comments and memes…it’s not just me or just the people who comment on SWPAS. I didn’t tell these folks what to say or believe and I don’t know most of them:
Today Clone Corridor posted this piece that flat out calls the panel/video content prequel bashing. I posted a link this morning on the SWPAS Facebook page and now it’s all over my feed. I haven’t seen anything like it.
As most of you have realized, this is calculated. They’re the top echelon’s talking points about TFA and they are most certainly aimed at tickling the ears of those who hated the prequels. I have no doubt about it. They cannot come out and say, “The prequels were a horrible mistake, we’re really sorry, and we’re going to do it right this time.” It would humiliate George Lucas. So they are being more subtle, promising they are going back to the old cookie recipe of a “used world” look, 1970s-1980s visual effects, on location filming, and bringing back the Star Wars “we all grew up with.” Ah, that’s another popular talking point…this has everything we loved about the original movies. It’s like listening to that Weezer song “Back To The Shack”: we’re sorry for our previous efforts! We’re getting back to basics and our roots, guys!
The emphasis on practical effects over CGI and green screen deliberately plays off of the prequel haters’ argument that CGI and green screen were liabilities. It’s also deliberately contrary to the PR behind the prequels that emphasized all of the cool stuff one could do with digital effects. Most of you reading this know the prequels had a mix of digital and practical effects. Even ROTS, which was the only Star Wars film without on location principal photography, used real world shots mixed in with digital and practical effects. But why didn’t this panel or the one at Celebration or in any of the media interviews about the film make the point that this film isn’t doing anything different from its predecessors? Because they know if the anti-PT crowd hears “we’re doing the same thing as Eps I-III,” that crowd will turn on TFA in a hurry. Disney and Lucasfilm’s top brass live in mortal fear of the hateboys. They know what these keyboard barbarians are capable of doing. So the suits are putting on the charm offensive, hoping to win over those disaffected fans by promising to give them “their” Star Wars back. And part of that is relegating the prequels to the crazy uncle attic, where they can only come out for lesser-seen material like books and comics. In four days at SDCC, I saw virtually nothing prequel-related from the various licensed booths. I’ll bet a moisture farm you won’t see a single PT alum anywhere near any of TFA’s official premieres (meanwhile, OT alum did show up for prequel premieres).
Part of the reason they are going the “Back To The Shack” route is of course to gin up anticipation without having to tell anyone anything about the movie. Friday’s panel was very light on substantive information. But trying so hard to win over OT-only base and keeping the mystery box shut is kicking up the hornet’s nest of prequel fans. We’re not stupid. We can hear the dog whistles loud and clear. Even those willing to give the benefit of the doubt are none too pleased at the direction marketing has taken. I’ve written before they think they can get away with it because most of us will see TFA at least once anyway. After what I’ve seen online over the past weekend, I’m starting to wonder if Disney/Lucasfilm has gone too far and if fans continue to get riled up like this, they can’t taken for granted anymore.
What’s really dumb about this whole thing is that Disney and Lucasfilm should worry less about geezer fanboys and more about kids whose formative Star Wars experiences were with the prequels and especially Clone Wars. I know this is anecdotal evidence, but at SDCC yesterday I was sitting at a table eating lunch and across from me were two boys with their dads. The boys were around eight or nine years old and they’d just bought some Clone Wars stuff in the exhibit hall. They weren’t talking about the OT or TFA, they were talking about Obi-Wan and Anakin.